Kill Them With Kindness: Ineffective Motivational Tactics

Office break rooms are often riddled with “you can do it!” style posters. You know, the ones that have a picture of Sequoia trees in California with something about how long they took to grow. These are great posters with great (and albeit cliché) sayings and quotes, but what do they really do for your employees? Honestly, absolutely nothing. While it’s interesting that Sequoia trees take 3,000 years of trying weather conditions and sustained effort to grow 300 feet, your employees don’t care. In fact, only 19% of employees are happy with their jobs. The other 81% would rather not see your motivational posters while they begrudgingly work for 8 hours to bring home the bacon.

Sometimes it is just another job.

“Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” –Confucius

Especially in rough economic times, your employees may feel stuck. This doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged. They might very well be engaged in fear of losing their job, however, this doesn’t imply they are happy. Stagnancy creates an atmosphere of disengagement. Even though it is easy to fall into the habits of stagnant behavior in the office, giving programs and advancement opportunities keep employees engaged while they are at work. Workplace giving programs, like donating to a charitable organization, motivate employees to make an impact, and that often will translate into their work. With the growing number of benevolent Millenials entering the workforce, 90% of companies offer a wide range of diverse charities to donate to in order to foster an atmosphere of community.  Opportunities for growth can increase engagement as well, so they begin to see it as more than just another avenue for a paycheck. The more employees value their place in your company, the more engaged they become.

An engaged employee isn’t necessarily a happy employee.

“It is the working man who is the happy man. The idle man is the man who is miserable.” –Benjamin Franklin

Engagement and happiness in a company are two completely different aspects of an employee’s attitude. Simply saying your employees are happy with their jobs, so they must be engaged, or even that your employees are unhappy so they must be disengaged, are false equivalencies that will only result in furthering their detachment. There are over 70 million employees who are disengaged from their jobs. This isn’t to say they aren’t happy, in fact they could be extremely content in the security your employment offers them. However that doesn’t mean they are fully dedicated to the projects you’ve left on their plate. It is expected of American employees to work until we can’t anymore. A lot of disengagement can be attributed to this. In a study of 21 developed countries, the United States was the only country that doesn’t consistently offer 10 to 30 days of paid vacation. Regardless if a U.S. employer gives their workforce vacation, they don’t use it because they are trained to work hard no matter the cost, even the costs to their health. In fact, middle-aged men at risk for heart disease who skipped vacations for 5 consecutive years are 30% more likely to have a heart attack.

Employees won’t always like their jobs.

“Do not hire a man who does work for money, but him who does it for love of it.” –Henry David Thoreau

Truth is, they don’t have to like their jobs to be engaged or motivated. Now, those 24% who are actively disengaged find reasons to not be at work while in the office because they honestly hate their jobs. The majority of the workforce does not fall into this category, however. The workforce is primarily disengaged, with 63% of employees sleepwalking through the workdays. Although they are disengaged, it’s not so drastic they can’t be “checked back into” their work. Effective motivation doesn’t come from overplayed sayings on pictures of nature. It just simply doesn’t work the way you hope; all you’re doing is evading the hard work. “Nothing worth it was ever easy,” or so they say. So, engaged employees may not be an easy goal to achieve, but when you take the time and the effort to find what motivates your workforce, it’s worth it.

(About the Author: Sean Pomeroy, CEO of Visibility Software, has worked in the Human Resources industry since he graduated from Radford University with a Bachelors in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. After working in HR as a generalist for a government contracting company, he moved to the HR Technology arena and began assisting companies in the selection and implementation of HR software.)

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photo credit: Felix’s Endless Journey via photopin cc